In tune with mythology and magical traditions of healing dating back to the 2nd–7th centuries AD, the artist Tamar Ettun presents an exhibition entitled “How to Trap a Demon” (October 5–November 16). Open at SUNY Purchase’s Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, the show—curated by Meghana Karnik—poses a contemporary perspective to the ancient practices of demon traps in varied mediums, showcasing the artist’s own. Including video and performance, installations of textiles, and a series of stoneware constructions, Ettun’s works have been rendered in surprisingly vibrant visuals that take a lighthearted approach to subject matter that might easily be misconstrued as dark and brooding.
Likened to present-day scientific methods of healing, in the centuries gone by, it was common practice to conjure and trap demons in rituals related to wellness. In Ettun’s work, the artist considers the figure of Lilit) in particular—an aerial spirit demon, known in the mythical world as Lilith, who is often seen on talismans and conjured as a figure of healing. Unusual to these practices, Ettun has placed Lilit at the center of the narrative, inviting viewers to see from the demon’s perspective. In addition to ideas of gender binarism in relation to archetypes of violence and manipulation, the audience is faced with depictions of contemporary demons and feelings of empathy for those like Lilit.
At the center of the exhibition lies an installation called Wave Cave—a trap and oasis belonging to Lilit, taking the form of a colorful patchwork enclosure. Constructed from hand-dyed fabrics, boat sales, infant blankets, and head scarves belonging to the artist’s mother and grandmother, Ettun recalls traditional rituals with the help of historical and mythical texts about Lilit (like the medieval The Alphabet of Ben Sira), ghostly audio uttering demon names, and a special incantation bowl.
Also on view are demons of modern-day life, summoned through the stoneware artwork Demon Traps (like Fire Trap, which sees a hazardous-looking bundle of matches sticking out of the mouth of a ceramic figure). Here, visitors can experience the process of a ritual being performed within the titular video, which the artist documented during a residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book and deck of cards entitled Texts from Lilit: 31 Cards to Connect You to Your Demon put together by Ettun and Karnick. It stems from a project the artist began in 2020, creating a text service that invited the public to correspond with “Lilit” by texting “SUMMON” to the number (833) 575-1049. Meant to connect users with their desires starting in the early days of the pandemic, the horoscopes, exercises, stories, and drawings sent to subscribers via text have been compiled into a deck of colorfully-marked cards featuring readings based on existing texts and the artist’s own imagination.